I seem to have a vague recollection of saying I was going to fly through Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. Was it 200 pages a week I committed myself to? I'm not sure I'll achieve that goal (though I'd like to try), but I have to admit that I've gotten a slow start on it. As you read through my reading notes you'll see what my distractions are, so hopefully my excuses are good ones. Still, the more I read the better it gets. I'm almost halfway through the first section (that sounds so much better than saying I'm only 140 pages into a 1,460 page book!). Hugo has obviously given himself lots of room to work on themes and one major one that's already oozing out of the story is that of redemption. Or it will be by the time I've finished. So far I've met Bishop Myriel, a very, very good man. His sister and their servant. And yes, the famous Jean Valjean. A convict who spent 19 years in jail for stealing one loaf of bread. A chance encounter with Myriel has given him a second chance at leading an honest life. And finally, Fantine. I just met her yesterday. She's a Parisian, a grisette (working class girl) who is in love with a student, whose attractions lie beneath the surface since he's not much to look at. I know there are others who were going to read along? Can you raise your hand if you are? How's it going? If you're reading Les Misérables and you're writing about it online, perhaps I can make a list on my sidebar with links? It would be nice to read everyone's thoughts about the book.
Whatever else I'm reading, Les Misérables travels with me to work everyday. Usually I take something else along as well. I'm halfway through several books--all very good. I have a hard time deciding which to choose every morning. I know I need to settle down with one and finish it. This weekend I'll choose one, but until then I'm juggling. I love The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling and cannot recommend it enough. Wonderful Victorian atmosphere aside, this is a serious novel. At least the issues she deals with are. This is not silly or fluffy, and I have a hard time setting it down. A taste (sorry am taking this a little out of context--if you don't know a little of the story--it's about a woman who must step in and run her husband's bookbinding business when his health fails. Some of the books are of a pornographic nature):
"Back at work, I fretted about Peter, and wondered if I really were doing the right thing in my new trade, with my leather penises and the like. They certainly made a change from the books a woman like me was meant to be reading, which seemed to demonstrate over and over again, with a million minor variations, that women are untroubled by desire, and that on their purity and domesticity depends the moral state of the entire nation. I thought of the books I had loved, rather than those that set out to belittle me. I tried to imagine Jane firkytoodling with Rochester, which was not hard, given that they only made love once he was a cripple, and I had bound plenty of literature which dealt with that topic. Or Cathy and Heathcliff, with Edgar watching, or, better still a ménage à trois powered by the passion of hatred. It surprised me how easy it was to imagine this, but then again, I had always found more genuine passion between the pages of Jane Eyre than between the sheets of The Lustful Turk. I empathised with Jane: her lack of hope for her life, her minimisation of her desires, her ability to knuckle down and do whatever that was needed to be done. After all, I was the daughter of a governess who had never hoped to marry either; and like Jane, I never felt that I was included among the fair sex."
Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 is about as different from the rest of my reads right now as you can get. It's a crime novel. And the crime is child murders possibly stretching from the 1930s to the 1950s. It's similarity is that it's another excellent read. I suspect this will be the book I finish this weekend. I've been rationing it out actually. Like any really good thriller it is an edge-of-your-seat adrenaline-rush kind of book. It's not just filled with predictable plot devices that keeps the story moving, however. He's obviously done his research and immerses you in post-WWII Soviet Union--a not very pretty place.
I've been marking passages in Sarah Bower's Needle in the Blood. I'll share soon and include visuals. With a description on the cover that reads "sex, lies and embroidery" I wasn't sure what to expect. A romance novel? I don't mind a splash of romance in my novels, but this has surprising depth to the story and characters. I'm even getting very fond of Bishop Odo (though try not to think of that tonsure! I know that's shallow of me, but it's not something I find very attractive).
After hearing very positive remarks from two readers about Owen Sheers's new novel, Resistance, I broke down and started it last night. I know, very bad of me. I'm only a chapter into the novel. The story is an alternative history of World War II. The invasion of Normandy has failed and the Nazis instead are invading England. In a small village in Wales the men have disappeared, and the women who are left must form an uneasy alliance with their occupiers. Sheers is a poet and this is his first novel. I have high expectations for this book, but if it is like the others I'm working on at the moment, I won't want to stop reading it either.
One more item. Did you see this article on overused words? I'm guilty of using compelling and intriguing. I had to laugh when I saw the list of words readers added in the comments area. I'm sure I'm guilty of using many of those as well, and I hope I'm not causing anyone here to "claw their eyes out" when I do. I do think words can be so overused that they lose their meaning, but I was starting to wonder what words were left that didn't make people annoyed or peevish. I promise to do my best to not use (too many) clichéd words, though I don't pretend to be a writer, critic, or reviewer, so perhaps you won't be too hard on me.